I have mentioned Ann Fahl’s book “Dancing with Thread” before. In it I was also introduced to the importance of blocking your top and your quilt prior to squaring it up. I have used her method ever since, although I have read about others.
Why block? Well, sewing of any type will distort fabric. So the blocking gives you a chance to get the fabric back to its original shape (to a certain limit) and to get everything to lie flat. If I have done complex piecing, I might block the block or a section of blocks. After quilting, where there is even more draw up, I will certainly block.
So here’s how to do it. You will need one or more of the cardboard cutting mats that most big box stores sell for anywhere from 7 to 10 bucks a piece. You’ll also need some sturdy sewing pins and perhaps a tape measure. While you can use the lines of the cardboard, depending on how crooked the edges are, you may need to double check the measurements.
First trim up the quilt to within ½ inch of what will probably be the final edge. While you don’t need to be super precise, don’t be too sloppy either. Lay out the cardboard on the floor close to an electrical outlet. Lay the quilt on top of it and align one of the edges (whichever one looks straightest) with a line on the board. Pin this edge down to the board by inserting a pin with the head slanted outwards about every 4 inches. This edge should be pinned to the final dimension the quilt was supposed to have, but don’t force it, if it requires a lot of stretching. At this point I sometimes will pin the opposing corners to the final dimensions and then ease/ slightly stretch the adjacent sides and then finally the opposing side. This may take a bit of futzing and measuring. When done the quilt should look right and be flat. (Photo 1)
|Photo 1: A quilt pinned to the cardboard, ready for the steam treatment.|
Now take a fully loaded steam iron set on high and hover about ½ to ¼ inches above the quilt. Go all around the quilt several times – the surface will be damp. Do not touch the quilt with the iron – you are using the heat and steam to relax the quilt into shape. This also makes this technique fairly safe for embellishments that cannot take heat. Hover higher, if you must. Let the quilt dry several hours to overnight. When you remove the pins, nothing should move! If it does, do it again.
Once the quilt is dry, it’s time to square it up. Here a larger ruler and a tape measure come in handy on larger quilts. Robbi Joy Eklow (video) uses a plastic ceiling panel that comes a size of 2 foot by 4 foot. I intend to try one of those. She recommends using a laser pointer to show you the way, once you have determined what the dimensions should be. It works great! (Photo 2) Setting the first line in a bit tricky. You have to determine which side is straightest (that’s where a border seam is helpful) and get that trimmed first. Then everything else should be squared to that. After that I set up my laser marker, place a rotary cutting pad underneath the quilts and start carefully cutting along the red line. So far I haven’t screwed up a quilt doing it this way. Occasionally I will cut once just beyond the final line, recheck things and then cut a second time. Depends how wonky the edge and everything seems to be. You know your quilt is squared correctly if the diagonal measurements are equal!
|Photo 2: tape measure and laser marker help define where the trimmed edge should be.|
Once you have blocked and trimmed, you can rest assured your quilt be true and lie flat after adding the binding.
You can block a block, set of blocks and a top the same way – just be really careful not to stretch any exposed biased edges! This will ensure that the quilt will probably need little coaxing to lie flat after quilting. Unless I am blocking a subset of blocks that will still be pieced, I don’t trim any edges until after quilting.
The other cool thing about the cardboard – it’s great to use when pin basting a quilt. Pin down the backing to the board, lay the batting on it and smooth out and then add the top. Now you can pin away, knowing that the pins won’t scratch any surface underneath, especially if you decide to lay the cardboard on a table. You can place multiple boards together – I use some masking tape to hold them together.